Abbas’ U.N. Gambit: a Bold Rejection of U.S. Diplomacy

Originally published on Tikkun Daily
On Friday, after much speculation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially announced that the Palestinians would seek full U.N. membership by going directly to the Security Council, setting the Palestinian Authority on a diplomatic collision course with the United States.

The Obama administration, which has vowed to veto any such efforts by the PA, has been engaged in frantic attempts to avert this move by the Palestinians. Why? Vetoing a Palestinian statehood bid at the Security Council will significantly damage one of President Obama’s main foreign policy goals: to cast the U.S. as a champion of Arab freedom and democracy in a turbulent and shifting Middle East.

This is why Washington has initiated last-minute talks with Abbas, trying to convince him to forgo the Security Council. The Obama administration understands that rejecting the Palestinians’ statehood bid on what will no doubt be a highly-dramatized world stage will do significant damage to this central foreign policy goal, and will likely further erode America’s already-shaky standing in the Middle East.

And this is precisely why Abbas is gambling with a move that is almost certain to fail. The Palestinians will force America to demonstrate to the world, once and for all, what most have known for some time – that the U.S. cannot be looked upon as the dominant brokering power in Middle East peace efforts.

According to a report from Haaretz, it was actually America’s final offer to avert a U.N. showdown which convinced Abbas and the Palestinians to directly challenge the Obama administration before the world:

A last-ditch U.S. attempt to sway the Palestinian Authority away from its planned statehood bid at the United Nations and toward resumed negotiations with Israel achieved only in convincing the Palestinians that recognition in the UN was their only possibility, a PA official said on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that a plan delivered at the last minute by U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross did not meet several Palestinian demands, thus convincing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. was not serious in trying to negotiate peace.

The offer made by the U.S. did nothing to address Israel’s illegal settlement construction or the occupation, and reportedly leaned toward legitimizing the settlements by describing them as “demographic trends since 1967.”

Shaath told Haaretz that “David Hale and Dennis Ross came with a paper that was the last straw that he [Abbas] could take. It seems that it was designed to be rejected.”

And so now, Abbas will reject American overtures before the world and force the Obama administration to either a) actualize Obama’s oft-stated desire for the Palestinians to have a state of their own, or b) damage its standing as a player in the Middle East by vetoing Palestinian statehood in the Security Council.

Abbas’ speech on Friday in Ramallah, in which he announced the Security Council gambit, made explicit that the effort was in no way meant to delegitimize Israel. In fact, Abbas was clear to note that the Palestinians are committed to a negotiated settlement with Israel, and stated that the Palestinians’ first desire, after concluding its U.N. efforts, was to return to the negotiating table with Israel and hammer out a peace settlement.

However, the upcoming showdown with the U.S. sends a clear message: the negotiating table to which the Palestinians will return must allow for additional place settings – it must make room for diplomatic players other than just the U.S. and Israel.

This move to the U.N. Security Council is about dignity. It’s about delegitimizing the occupation. It’s about delegitimizing Israel’s continued, illegal settlement construction that has whittled away much of the West Bank. And it’s about standing up to U.S. hypocrisy – a hypocrisy which has prompted the Obama administration to condemn the Palestinians’ U.N. effort as unilateral while characterizing the true unilateral affront – settlement construction – as “demographic trends.”

In all likelihood, once the U.S. vetoes Palestinian statehood in the Security Council, Abbas will shift to the General Assembly, where he will win a resounding (though largely symbolic) diplomatic victory through a non-binding resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Will such a victory change anything on the ground immediately? No, and nobody expects it will. However, what will likely change is America’s standing with regard to its role as a broker of Middle East peace, a change that is long overdue.

Granted, Obama is under unwavering domestic pressure to reject all Palestinian efforts at the U.N., and is in a very difficult political position. In short, he must calculate whether the diplomatic damage caused by a Security Council veto will be trumped by the domestic political damage an abstention or even a “yes” vote would cause as 2012 and the coming election loom.

That said, bold leadership from Obama has always been required to actualize his bold, rhetorical support of Palestinian self-determination, leadership that has unfortunately been lacking.

Unless an unexpected shift occurs, the U.S. is about to consummate a dramatic diplomatic failure. The Palestinians are gambling that the U.S., given the stakes involved, just might blink in the face of possible diplomatic isolation. But even if the U.S. stays the course and vetoes the PA’s statehood bid, the Palestinians will be sending a clear message: they will no longer accept the status quo as they seek the same thing millions of others across the Middle East are demanding – freedom and self-determination.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG


About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on September 17, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Here’s an idea: Palestine is recognized as sovereign nation under temporary UN trusteeship…Token but
    effective UN Peacekeeping/Police Force moves in. IDF, INP, goons move OUT…Palestine creates non-
    partisan,neutral or unaligned unicameral government which serves its people by ‘isolating issues, then
    solving problems’…Israelis and other ‘ferriners’ who wish to remain must apply for permanent residency
    and affirm they will obey Pal Laws…The [Rand Corp designed] ‘ARC’ will be built. A ‘western-slice’ of
    Samaria and ALL of Jewrusalem west of The ARC goes to Israel, along with Rte 1 to Jordan, Rte 5 to
    Ariel, Rte 443 [spur to Atarot Airport is cut off]. At this point, Israeli and Pal technocrats, specialuists,
    and professionals meet and agree boundries, road use, and most other mutually-affecting details. The
    ARC route is engineered thru Israel to connect Pal Hebron to North Gaza…When each set of tasks is thus ‘worked out’, they are submitted to The Knesset and The [Pal] General Assembly for bi-lateral agreement by the [entire] governments–not individuals or cliques!..

    The UN troops/cops remain onscene [altho their personnel may ‘rotate’]…The UN Personnel must be
    White northern Europeans, Black eastern/southern Africans, and Oriental far-east/south-eastern Asians
    with NO Semites, Arabs, Jews, Muslim or any others who resemble or relate to Israelis or Pals…UN-
    folk must wear blue helmets or berets and an emblem of their personal nationality [home country]…IDF,
    INP, and settler-goons will be escorted out of Paklestine. All automatic/semi-auto firearms and ammu-
    nition must be removed from Palestine or surrendered to Pal State Police, or local Municipal Police…
    Palestine will construct a new capital ‘campus’ on the eastern side of The ARC and will evacuate all
    Pals and Pal activities from Jewrusalem, including Orient House and AlQuds University…If desired,
    Pals may exhume and recover their dead reinterring them in Palestine…All removals of Pals will be
    done during hours when Israelis are at work or in school..ALL persons crossing the few, necessary,
    Ports-of-Entry must be checked [vehicle, baggage/cargo, personnel] by THEIR side first! No weapons,
    flammables, explosives may cross!..Aaron Allen…

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